After winning their first game one of a playoff series since last year's dousing of the Calgary Flames in round one, the wait in between games one and two in San Jose has seemed long and slow. The Blackhawks were lead by a startlingly profound performance by Antti Niemi, who blocked 45 shots on goal in the Hawks' comeback victory.
The Hawks' goaltender looked like a magician throughout most of the game, but no save was better than the one capping off this barrage from the Sharks:
After facing the Nashville Predators and the Vancouver Canucks, the San Jose Sharks have shown in one game that they are far above the best team the Hawks have faced so far in the playoffs. The Predators are like a kid grabbing onto your legs during a wrestling match and hanging on for dear life; simply hoping that by impeding and annoying you, they might just come out victorious. The Canucks, on the other hand, were like facing a cocky teenager who winds up with everything he's got, and misses you by a foot... then allowing you to stomp upon him relentlessly with little or no recoil.
The Sharks are a disciplined and talented team, although the Hawks, no doubt, are the more talented of the two. Brilliant play be Niemi will sure help, but this style of play from the Sharks may, again, favor the Blackhawks. The Canucks attempted to skate with the Hawks and failed, but San Jose is obviously much more capable of competing with the Hawks on the same level. However, if the Hawks play a solid 60 minutes and stick to their game plan, as they did in game one, once again the Hawks should be able to out play their opponent.
Furthermore, I feel it is safe to assume that the Hawks will not go without powerplay chances in the remaining games of the series, while likewise I would find it hard to believe that they will be shorthanded five times in any of the upcoming games. The Hawks do not need Niemi to be the beast he was in game one all series long, they just need him to be good. I expect the Hawks to look more disciplined in game two, while San Jose will almost have to look (at least a little) sloppier.
I am counting on the Hawks to return home with a 2-0 series lead... but that is when they will really have to buckle down and show some solid and disciplined play at the United Center. If San Jose takes game two, then buckle up Hawk fans, 'cause this could turn into one long, epic, blow-for-blow battle that none of us will soon forget. Either way I will have full confidence in the Hawks taking the series, but I could do without the twenty would-be heart attacks that surely would be waiting for me in a game seven to go to the Stanley Cup.
P.S. And, while I've been defending Hossa since the start of the playoffs, I feel it is important still to stick up for the man who has played with a notable fire since game one against Nashville. He's been constantly checking people, killing penalties, playing from end-to-end, and is so frequently on the puck that I find it hard for anyone to still be harping about the "slow" production he has had in the playoffs.
After Sunday's game in San Jose, only Brent Seabrook (7) has a better +/- than Hossa (6). That speaks for itself.